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Amish Swiss German

Male speaker interviewed by J??rgen Eichhoff, May 1984, Allen County, Indiana

County: Allen
State: IN

The majority of the roughly 200,000 Old Order Amish in North America speak Pennsylvania Dutch, a language that developed in eighteenth-century Pennsylvania. However, there is a small minority among the Amish whose ancestors emigrated to the United States from the Berne area of Switzerland in the mid-nineteenth century and who continue to speak Bernese Swiss German (alongside English). Known as the "Swiss Amish," most live in southern Indiana and maintain other distinctively Swiss cultural practices, including yodeling.
[Tell us about threshing and other summer farm work.]

Well, usually we hitch four horses to the binder, what we call the binder, that cuts [the stalks] and binds them. Then we put those up in shocks. Then, when it's time for threshing ... of course at some point we need to spread manure ... after making hay we usually spread manure where the stalks were. Then, when it's time for threshing, then we cut down the stalks again. After threshing there's usually a little time, and if we have tomatoes, then we're busy with that. Then of course it's time to sow wheat and plowing the fields, so about the beginning of October we sow wheat. And with the tomatoes that we had last year we were pretty busy in September and October.

Pennsylvania Dutch: Midwestern Amish

Female speaker interviewed by J??rgen Eichhoff, 1984, Nappanee, Indiana

County: Elkhart
State: IN

While the Amish are stereotypically associated with Lancaster County, PA, most Amish in fact live in the Midwest, especially the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Though Amish everywhere share core Christian beliefs, there are cultural and linguistic differences between Lancaster and Midwestern Amish. This Amish woman from northern Indiana recalls stories from her days as a teacher in an Amish parochial school. Historically, most Amish attended public schools until consolidation and curricular changes compelled them to operate their own schools. Recognizing the importance of fluency in English, Amish require that English be the sole medium of instruction in their schools, sometimes even during recess as well. High German, the language of the Bible, prayer books, and hymnals, is commonly taught as a subject in Amish schools.
[What's it like in an Amish parochial school?] From 1977 to 1979 I was teaching school and we [teachers] tried to get to school no later than 7:30, that was when we wanted to be there so that we could study the lessons and stuff for that day and have everything ready by the time the kids came at 8 o'clock, they weren't supposed to come before 8. Then they usually played until 8:30 when school started and we would ring the bell. It was a one-room schoolhouse and we had all eight grades [in there]. There were two of us teachers, I had five through eight [grades]. And the first thing in the morning we had our devotions and we had a prayer and read a Bible story or then we would sing. Usually we sang in English, sometimes we sang in German. Then we usually started with arithmetic, then reading. At 10 o'clock we had recess, then at 11:30 we'd have lunch, then they were allowed to play for an hour. And we had arithmetic and reading and writing and spelling, history, seventh and eighth had history, fifth and sixth had geography. Then every Friday we had German and Monday morning we'd try to write a Bible verse on the board that the kids were supposed to memorize by Friday, then they were supposed to know it by heart. And when we had classes they were supposed to speak only English, it was in English, and in recess they were supposed to speak English too. Sometimes they got sort of carried away and would speak German, then we [teachers] had to sort of play a game with them, to give them, oh, so many kernels of corn, so if we caught them speaking German, that person would have a kernel taken away from them, and at the end of the week we would see who had the most kernels. But for a treat sometime, for about the last six weeks of the school year we would let them speak German.

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